Archaeologists will be conducting test excavations at Carrickfergus Castle as part of the ongoing work by the Department of the Environment to uncover more of the castle's history and to inform future development of the castle to enhance the visitor's experience.The castle has a long history and has been continuously occupied for more than 800 years since it was constructed in the late twelfth century by John de Courcy.Test excavations will be carried out at two locations to find out more about the date and survival of archaeology in the inner and outer wards.Neither of these areas have been subject to such detailed investigation before and analysis is vital before new projects are put in place at the castle.Although the test sites will be fenced off for safety purposes, visitors to Carrickfergus Castle will still be able to see what the archaeologists are uncovering.The Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork, Queen's University Belfast, will carry out the work in Carrickfergus Castle on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency over the next three weeks.For visitors to the Castle during the course of the next three weeks, the opportunity to view a 'live' dig is an exciting proposition and will undoubtedly enhance the visitor experience.Carrickfergus Mayor Billy AsheOne area of testing will focus on the remains of the Great Hall in the Inner Ward, one of the most important public areas of this Medieval Castle when it was first built by John de Courcy.The second area of testing will be in the outer ward to find out what archaeological layers survive there at present.Commenting on the dig, SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: "This is an exciting new phase in the life of Carrickfergus Castle."We do not know yet what we will find in the excavations and we want to make sure that any new discoveries become part of visitor experience at the site."I announced major funding for heritage-led development at sites such as Carrickfergus, Dundrum and Tullaghoge which will help strengthen Northern Ireland's unique heritage offering for all visitors to our treasured sites."Carrickfergus Borough's Mayor, Alderman Billy Ashe, also welcomed the excavations."This is a notable development and I look forward to witnessing the excavations at first hand," he said.The results of the digs will help guide how the areas are presented to the public and how these areas can be used in the future.The work is part of a wider Northern Ireland Environment Agency heritage-led development initiative and will help guide how more of the castle can be opened up and improved for visitor access and learning.